Prison teacher sues over attack by Arizona inmate, accuses corrections agency of lax security



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PHOENIX — An Arizona prison teacher has blamed state officials over an attack in which she says she was stabbed and raped by a convicted sex offender she was left alone with in a penitentiary classroom.

Her attorneys filed a lawsuit Tuesday saying the Arizona Department of Corrections failed to provide adequate security and the prison's health care provider didn't properly evaluate the prisoner charged in the assault.

The January attack has raised questions about prison security after reports showed she was put into a room full of inmates with no guards nearby. Authorities say the 20-year-old blamed in the assault had lingered behind after others left the room, then repeatedly stabbed the victim with a pen before raping her.

Arizona's workplace safety agency launched an investigation of prison policy after The Associated Press reported the details in June. The review is ongoing, a Division of Occupational Safety and Health spokeswoman said.

Corrections Director Charles Ryan, who is named in the lawsuit, was not immediately available, but prison officials have said they cannot comment on the lawsuit.

Corrections spokesman Doug Nick has called the attack "a cowardly and despicable crime, for which the inmate is rightfully facing prosecution."

He says the safety of all staffers is the department's "paramount priority, and we have reached out to the victim to offer our full assistance and support."

The lawsuit filed in Pinal County Superior Court doesn't seek specific damages. In a precursor July legal claim, attorney Scott Zwillinger asked for $4 million and wrote that the state could lose $10 million if the case went to trial.

Nick has said previously that "the department vigorously disputes allegations made in the employee's claim against the state, and new allegations being made to the media."

The lawsuit says Corizon Health, the state prison system's health care provider, improperly assessed Harvey's mental health. The lawsuit said that led prison officials to classify him as a relatively low-risk offender, allowing him access to the classroom. A Corizon spokeswoman said she could not immediately comment Tuesday.

In an AP interview, the 34-year-old teacher said she mainly blames Ryan, who she says allowed lax training, staffing shortages and poor security at the Eyman prison in Florence, south of Phoenix. The AP does not identify those who say they are victims of sexual assault.

Jacob Harvey, 20, has pleaded not guilty to charges of sexual assault, kidnapping and aggravated assault in the case. His lawyer has declined comment on the case.

At the time of the attack, Harvey was being held in a unit that holds about 1,300 rapists, child molesters and other sex offenders.

He was in the first year of a 30-year sentence after being convicted of raping a Glendale woman in 2011. Prosecutors said Harvey, who was 17 at the time, knocked on a woman's door asked for a drink of water, then pushed his way in and repeatedly forced himself on the victim, whose 2-year-old child was in the apartment at the time.

The prison teacher also describes a violent attack and says the department left her vulnerable and unprepared for it.

"I remember trying to fight him off," she said. "The only thing I remembered from self-defense was to tuck my head so he would not choke me."

She said she also remembers getting stabbed, screaming and being unable to activate a panic button on her two-way radio.

She said she had received only four hours of self-defense training before being placed in classrooms, which guards did not regularly monitor, despite regulations calling for three checks each hour.

During the interview, she said radios were prone to battery problems and in short supply. If one wasn't available, she'd be pressured to hold class anyway, she said.

The teacher says she feels traumatized by the attack.

"There's times where I think I'm doing good," she said. "Then I just come crashing down. I haven't been sleeping well."

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